In the summer of 2015, my (now) boyfriend and I decided to plan a very last-minute hike up Half Dome. We finalized the decision to go about six weeks before our trip in the third week of September, therefore had missed the window of opportunity to reserve a valley campsite by about 5 months. The only available campgrounds in Yosemite were the ones outside the valley, and we decided to try out Crane Flat campground.
The Crane Flat Campground is about 19 miles outside Yosemite Valley off highway 120 - it takes around 35 minutes or so to travel by car from Yosemite Valley to Crane Flat. Crane Flat is a nice and peaceful campground surrounded by trees, and at the time was at less than half capacity. While camping in Yosemite Valley would have been more convenient for us on the day of our Half Dome hike, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the nearly empty Crane Flat campground.
The campsites in Crane Flat have bear bins, fire rings, and picnic tables. The toilets were plumbed but there are no showers available. I imagine Crane Flat fills up during the peak seasons, but the sites seem to be more spread out than the sites in the Valley. If you want to avoid camping in the Valley, Crane Flat or Wawona campgrounds are both great options!
We spent our first day doing easy hikes around the valley floor, swimming in the Merced River, and keeping our fingers crossed that we would win the lottery to hike Half Dome. We did, so we climbed it the next day.
We were exhausted the day after our Half Dome hike, so we decided not to drive to the Valley. We swam in Tenaya Lake which was still FREEZING in September, but it felt good as it was hot out. We drove past the Big Oak Flat Entrance and out to Groveland, where we had lunch and drinks at the Iron Door Saloon. The Iron Door Saloon is a family friendly restaurant and bar that is apparently the oldest continuously operating saloon in California. It’s a little tourist-trappy, but I’ve enjoyed it the couple times I’ve been there, and they have good burgers and drinks for cheap.
CAUTION: be extremely aware of bears while camping in Yosemite National Park! Each campsite in Crane Flat has a bear bin - USE YOUR BEAR BIN! Bears are known to break into cars to snack from coolers or any food or toiletries are left out. The bear bins are quite large, so coolers do fit inside - bears can still smell food in coolers inside of cars, and apparently recognize a cooler when they peak into your car windows. If you have to leave your cooler in the car, it is suggested that you cover it up with towels or gear to hide it from site. On the same note, do not leave any of your toiletries or snacks inside the tent with you. In general it seems that the rangers seem to have good control over the bears that have been tagged and are constantly monitored, but not all bears are tagged, and even the tagged bears will make their way into Yosemite campgrounds. Be smart and safe in bear country!
Fees: $26/night peak ($18/night non-peak)
Plumbed Toilets: Yes
Drinking Water: Yes
Picnic Table: Yes
Cooking Grate: Yes
Cell Service: No
Animal Bins/Food lockers: Yes